I find the use of the word nonviolent troubling. The word nonviolence assumes that violence is the norm and as long as we use words such as nonviolent the material conditions that create such a norm cannot be shifted. Using double negative language reinforces the very things we want to change; at best, it cancels out negative things. Our language should reflect the world we are trying to create. It should be superfluously affirmative and constructive. For example, we can engage in peaceful communication instead of nonviolent communication. The more we express what we desire, the more easily it will become the norm.
Many spiritual teachers, and social constructionists, contend that we create the world around us through the language we use, whether or not it is intentional, in both our minds and in our conversations. In accordance with this principle, we gain weight when we obsess over how overweight we are and we lose lovers when we jealously obsess over other potential mates.
Of the Ten Commandments, 80% of them tell us what not to do (I am not sure of the percentage of the 613 commandments but if you have this information please share!). They are negatively stated; for example, do not kill and do not commit adultery. Every law of which I am aware is similarly structured: they forbid specific actions. It doesn’t seem to be working, because people break laws every minute of every day. Do negative laws beget negative acts?
What if laws articulated what we should do rather than what we shouldn’t do? Rather than do not kill, we would say honor the sanctity of all people and living things. Wow. What kind of world would be possible if our formal and informal laws were based on doing right rather than not doing wrong?
I can think of two reasons why our laws are negatively stated: tradition and efficiency. Are these our most important values as a society?
While we may not have the authority to immediately transform all laws to the affirmative, we can make changes through our everyday experiences. In our own lives, we can make decisions based on possibility rather than limitation. In our families, we can create shared understandings that dignify rather than criminalize. In our organizations, we can develop policies that truly reflect our values. Doing so might transform our lives and our world.
In social justice conversations and communications, how can we use language that is simultaneously 1) disruptive and 2) constructive that also 3) meets the litmus test of no conflicting or competing implicit assumptions? Should social justice language strive toward meeting these three criteria in order to be effective?
See my handout from a recent presentation for some more thoughts on this topic.